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Big Hero 6: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Disney's Big Hero 6 (2014) movie poster Big Hero 6

Theatrical Release: November 7, 2014 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams / Writers: Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, Jordan Roberts (screenplay); Duncan Rouleau, Steven T. Seagle (characters)

Voice Cast: Scott Adsit (Baymax), Ryan Potter (Hiro Hamada), Daniel Henney (Tadashi Hamada), T.J. Miller (Fred), Jamie Chung (Go Go Tomago), Damon Wayans Jr. (Wasabi), Genesis Rodriguez (Honey Lemon), James Cromwell (Professor Robert Callaghan), Alan Tudyk (Alistair Krei), Maya Rudolph (Aunt Cass), Abraham Benrubi (General), Katie Lowes (Abigail), Billy Bush (Newscaster), Daniel Gerson (Desk Sergeant), Paul Briggs (Yama), Charlotte Gulezian (Ringleader), David Shaughnessy (Heathcliff), Stan Lee (Fred's Dad)
Big Hero 6 is one of DVDizzy.com's Top 100  Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).Big Hero 6 ranks 45th in our list of the Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).

Buy Big Hero 6 from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

Last night, Big Hero 6 won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. That means that after twelve years without a win in that category (and thirteen without any Oscar wins whatsoever), Walt Disney Animation Studios, the division that basically invented the animated feature and long cornered the market, has won two consecutive years, successfully defending Frozen's victory,
albeit in another year without a Pixar nominee and a year in which the best animated film by most accounts (The Lego Movie) was bizarrely limited to the Best Original Song competition. On the other hand, had Wreck-It Ralph taken the honor among 2012's offerings as it should have, Disney could be holding a three-peat through 2015, its first year without a new release since 2006.

Not many foresaw Big Hero 6 winning the Oscar. Most predicted How to Train Your Dragon 2 and I bet on an upset by the passion-inspiring yet largely unseen The Tale of Princess Kaguya. But you won't see me complaining about the win, probably the nicest surprise of an Oscar night where I wasn't all that crazy about any of the nominees. Big Hero 6 was well-received by critics (90% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and wholeheartedly embraced by the public as well, its $220 million domestic and $546 M worldwide grosses towering over much of the competition, including Dragon 2 domestically and Lego Movie globally.

Personal care companion Baymax tries to pick Hiro Hamada out of the dumps in Disney's "Big Hero 6."

The acquisition of Marvel gave Disney two of the top grossing films of 2014. It also gave them access to most of Marvel's exhaustive library of characters. While most would agree that Marvel Studios is doing a fine job making movies adapted from Marvel comic books, it's nice to have the option to give someone else at Disney a try. That occurs on Big Hero 6, which lets Walt Disney Animation Studios, riding a hot streak off the $1.2 billion-grossing Frozen, adapt a rather obscure series of comic books launched in 1998.

An obscure source may challenge marketing departments, but it can be something of a blessing for filmmakers. For proof of that, look no further than Guardians of the Galaxy, the best-attended and perhaps best-loved of all 2014 releases. That film benefitted from most moviegoers having no real idea what to expect coming in. It wasn't a sequel or a reboot attempting to retell an often-told origin story. There was nothing sacred about the characters and no major prior filming to live up to.

Big Hero 6 is very much in the same boat and it even has another liberating feature, by not bearing the Marvel name or adhering to the prevailing PG-13 superhero movie mold. This is a PG-rated animated film and one whose comic book origins will likely remain unknown to the majority of parents and kids attending it. Billed "from the creators of Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen", the film wields the weight of the Disney Animation brand and not even the timeless classical music fairy tales but a couple of hip, recent blockbusters that many of all ages found highly entertaining.

A powerful, mysterious figure in a kabuki mask uses Hiro's microbots against him.

Much more Wreck-It Ralph than Frozen and most comparable to Meet the Robinsons out of the now 54-deep canon, Big Hero 6 is set in the city of San Fransokyo (which lives up to its name as a hybrid of San Francisco and Tokyo) in the seemingly not so distant future. Fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada spends his time partaking in underground bot fights for money. Posing as a young naif, Hiro and his personally engineered, remote-controlled bot can hustle the best of them to illegal financial gain. Hiro's big brother Tadashi gently encourages the prodigy, who he clumsily exposits graduated high school at 13, to check out his college, San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. This so-called "nerd school" is a paradisiacal playground to Hiro, who is in awe of the high-tech gadgetry being developed by his brother and four fellow science geeks.

Tadashi's big invention is Baymax, an inflatable robotic personal health care companion. A rotund, marshmallow-like anthropomorphic creature with a face that's blank apart from barbell-shaped eyes, Baymax is designed to help those requiring medical attention, which he provides calmly with questions, answers, and instant body scans. Baymax becomes a kind of guide for Hiro as the boy tries to track down a supply of microbots, his own big invention devised to gain admission to SFIT. What Hiro and Baymax find is a menacing mystery man in a kabuki mask who has apparently stolen Hiro's potent, near-limitless technology to serve his own personal interests.

No more needs to be said about the film's plot. It is framed slightly like a mystery and unfolds with a couple of big twists you should be able to predict right before their reveals without any spoilers. That isn't troubling, because Big Hero 6 is less a mystery and more an adventure. It's a superhero movie in which the heroes aren't that super, just very smart and savvy. A group dynamic emerges when Hiro and Baymax are joined by Tadashi's classmates, who you discover were worth the introductions the film gave them. They've all got nicknames, distinct interests and personalities. The most outstanding character of them is Fred (noticeably voiced by T.J. Miller), a party dude who is school mascot but not a student and not in the economic bracket you'd expect.

Big Hero 6 is ready to attack!

Adapted from Marvel comics, Big Hero 6 inevitably features some action. You might feel it's obligatory or, being a PG Disney movie, tame, but neither of those labels fits. As someone who is quickly tired by even well-made action sequences that run too long and don't do anything new (see Captain America: The Winter Soldier), I was happy that Big Hero 6 keeps its conflict creative and does not overextend it. The action bits work because the universe and the characters have been thoroughly established and developed.
Some formula elements (a foreseeable death, a somewhat obvious misdirect) advance the plot at times. You've got to just take such moments in stride and you will because the movie is smart, funny, touching, and exciting enough to not have to be completely original and brilliant.

On the basis of The Incredibles alone, Pixar is probably the most obvious choice for a Disney-owned animation studio to tackle a Marvel superhero film. While that might happen some day, the best thing about Pixar has been their ability to cultivate original ideas into delightful storytelling. That is a quality that has been missed in the past few years as the industry's standard bearer has sort of underwhelmed with incongruous, inferior franchise extensions, one good but not quite great original film, and a rare off year. Thankfully, Pixar has two original films scheduled for release in 2015 and Brad Bird is supposedly going to give the public the one Pixar sequel everyone seems to want in a long-overdue second Incredibles. Meanwhile, Pixar's last few releases have not just dragged down the company's batting average, they have also enabled the competition to catch up.

Disney Animation has caught up as well as anyone. Just nine years ago, the feature division that began with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was in the midst of an identity crisis as they moved from traditional methods to computer animation adopting a tone akin to DreamWorks. That is but a distant memory now and Pixar's head honcho John Lasseter may be most responsible for the image makeover. With Lasseter in control of both studios' output, Pixar's emphasis on story has rubbed off on Disney Animation, whether they are adding to their legacy of musical fairy tales, showing Winnie the Pooh the respect he deserves, or adapting an obscure Marvel comic book series. Even those like me not terribly impressed by Frozen have to acknowledge that the gap between Pixar and other animation studios, especially Disney's, has narrowed. For a while, there was Pixar, then space bar, space bar, space bar, everyone else.

Even in just the recently ended first half of the decade, though, we've seen a number of non-Pixar animated movies that could compare to at least the midrange of the CGI pioneers' 20-year canon: Rango, Wreck-It Ralph, The Lego Movie. And now, Big Hero 6. It may not be a game-changer and it's far too soon to know if fifteen years from now a new edition of this film will warrant heavy promotion and excitement or a more muted response. What's more important, now, is that Disney Animation is regularly demonstrating they can still craft films worthy of being added to a list that includes such masterpieces as Pinocchio, The Jungle Book, and The Lion King. They've got the talent and the technology to make something visually dazzling and structurally significant while working in a wide variety of genres and styles. They are once again capable of making movies that are just as good as many of the best live-action films of the year, even if they won't get recognized as such by awards shows or many critics.

Doing its part to narrow the theatrical window, Big Hero 6 arrives a week before the month Disney has long used to bring their November animated releases to home video. It hits stores tomorrow on DVD and in the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here, each coming three weeks after the movie became available on Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere. (Though theatrically exhibited in 3D, this is the latest Disney movie not to get a Blu-ray 3D release in North America.)

Big Hero 6: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.39:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English, French, Spanish
Extras Subtitled; DVD Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Transferring digital animation from computers to disc these days always produces the closest to perfection that technology allows. Big Hero 6 is no exception. This film's striking, tasteful 2.39:1 visuals are presented with the utmost care and quality. Vibrant colors and tremendous detail elevate this presentation to one of the finest enjoyed by an animated feature.

The Blu-ray's 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is every bit as a much of a sensory feast. The type of movie that wouldn't have been out of place in an Oscars' sound category, Big Hero 6 offers a very engaging mix that excites without overwhelming, while deftly juggling dialogue, music, and effects. It's the kind of active experience that rewards those with home theaters.

In the Oscar-winning Disney animated short "Feast", Winston the dog looks sideways at a Brussels sprout. "Hiro's Journey" shows actor Scott Adsit voicing Baymax.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Big Hero 6's all-HD extras begin with Feast (6:13), the Walt Disney Animation Studios short that preceded it in theaters and which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature last night.
It tells the story of a dog named Winston whose feeding methods change in conjunction with his owner's relationship and family status. Void of dialogue but full of style, this forgettably-titled but enjoyable 3D 'toon from Patrick Osborne, an animation supervisor on Disney's Oscar-winning Paperman, might be mistaken for a Pixar short if not for the departure of its visuals.

"The Origin Story of Big Hero 6: Hiro's Journey" (15:10), which amusingly opens with a Baymax spoiler warning, is a nifty featurette hosted in San Francisco by Jamie Chung, the voice of Go Go. It details the film's influences, starting with director Don Hall's lifelong appreciation for Disney animation and Marvel comic books, and development, including departures from the comics and a wealth of original ideas. Nicely shot location footage, generous behind-the-scenes views, an assortment of in-progress visuals, and attempts to tie this production into the tradition of Disney animation all distinguish this from less satisfying making-of pieces.

In "Big Animator 6", animators discuss the characters they brought to life. Tadashi and Hiro have a robotics outfit in this deleted alternate opening.

"Big Animator 6: The Characters Behind the Characters" (6:39) assembles six animators to discuss the personalities they worked on the film. Their remarks are complemented by the occasional look at voice actors in the recording studio.

A deleted scenes section (13:10) consists of four cut scenes in story reel format, individually introduced by directors Don Hall and Chris Williams. They include two alternate openings (one reworked for later in the film), a museum heist sequence, and a short scene involving Hiro, Fred, and a grappling hook.

Watch a clip from the deleted scene "Grappling Hook":

We even get Big Hero 6's dialogue-free theatrical teaser (1:41), a rare case of Disney preserving a new film's marketing as a bonus feature.

The Easter egg "Big Hero Secrets" shows you where you can find Frozen snowman Olaf in "Big Hero 6." Wasabi appears second in the Big Hero 6 main menu's count-up.

Finally, there is "Big Hero Secrets" (2:46), an Easter egg about the film's Easter eggs promised on the package and hidden in the Blu-ray's bonus features menu. It points out a number of subtle nods to Frozen,
Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, Bolt, the upcoming Zootopia, and crew members buried within Big Hero 6.

Of these bonus features, the combo pack's DVD (the same one sold on its own) only includes Feast, the teaser, and "Big Animator 6."

The discs open with a Disney Movies Anywhere promo and trailers for Inside Out, Aladdin: Diamond Edition, and Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast. The Sneak Peeks listing doesn't repeat these, instead playing ads for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Infinity (emphasizing Big Hero 6), "Star Wars: Rebels", and "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" - The Lost Missions.

The main menu counts out the Big Hero 6 with colorful character action.

Topped by an embossed slipcover repeating its artwork, the side-snapped blue keepcase holds Disney Movie Rewards and Disney Movie Club inserts alongside the plain gray and blue discs.

Baymax and Hiro take a scenic flight over San Fransokyo.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though it may occasionally resemble a 1990s Saturday morning cartoon in content, Big Hero 6 is entertaining, engrossing, and emotionally fulfilling in a way that few films are. This funny, delightful adventure represents another artistic achievement for Disney's storied animation division and an unconventional one that largely avoids traditional elements for original, character-driven storytelling.

This versatile Blu-ray combo pack is not overflowing with bonus features, especially considering it holds a blockbuster Oscar winner. But the 45 minutes of unusually good supplemental content perfectly complement the film's first-rate presentation, turning this into one of the first 2015 releases that deserves a place in every Blu-ray collection.

Buy Big Hero 6 from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Walt Disney Animation Studios: Wreck-It Ralph Frozen Meet the Robinsons Tangled Winnie the Pooh Bolt
2014 Marvel: Guardians of the Galaxy Captain America: The Winter Soldier The Amazing Spider-Man 2 X-Men: Days of Future Past
2014 Oscar Winners: Birdman The Grand Budapest Hotel Boyhood The Theory of Everything The Imitation Game
Animated Action: The Incredibles The Lego Movie Rango Monsters University
New: 101 Dalmatians Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown Gladiators of Rome Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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Reviewed February 23, 2015.



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